So this salesperson walks into a prospect’s office and sees a large elephant sitting in the corner of the room. It’s clear that the elephant is quite comfortable and has been there for some time. The salesperson stares at the elephant, looks at his prospect, stares once more at the elephant and decides to take a seat. He pulls out his brochure, begins his sales call and pretends there’s no elephant. Sounds like the start of a bad joke doesn’t it?
In fact, this elephant is one of the most common obstacles to effective selling in today’s highly competitive and alarmingly similar market.
Typically, salespeople have been taught to ask a set of prepared questions to launch a sales conversation. Whether the questions are open-ended or closed-ended, whether they lead the customer to a destination in thinking – few if any relate to the elephant. Most salespeople never see the elephant or have trained themselves to ignore the elephant. Some are simply afraid of elephants.
Any ideas yet on what I’m talking about?
What is the most important thing that a salesperson really knows when he or she is meeting someone for the first time? The person’s name and title? Maybe. What the company does? Perhaps. If they use the salesperson’s products and services? Could be.
But there’s something much more important. The one thing we can count on, the one significant fact we know for sure, is that this customer is not ours. That’s really the only meaningful thing we know. That’s the elephant!
So why don’t we talk about the elephant right away? The number one competitor, for the majority of sales people, is the status quo. In other words, the real competition isn’t really your competitors, is what the prospect is doing now by force of habit. That’s what matters.
It’s a bit humbling to consider, but our customer don’t really need us, no matter how many need based questions we may choose to ask. Frankly if we went out of business tomorrow, there would be few people who would even care. (You and I would of course, but I’m talking about the prospects we imagine have this need for what we offer). Think about it, if your favorite mechanic moved out of the country you wouldn’t stop having your car serviced would you?
If we know that the true competitor, the status quo, is sitting there like an elephant in the corner of the room, we should ask about that. Isn’t this the first thing that has to happen? If someone is unable and unwilling to de-invest in a relationship with their current provider is your very best and well-rehearsed dog and pony show going to matter? Probably not.
How is your sales team going about selling change? What questions can you ask to help you to uncover your real competition – the status quo.

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